It was already dark when we departed Denver International Airport from Gate W72 (or some other such out-of-the-way point), and I was reveling in the discovery I would have both seats to myself on the GE. I settled in with my journal, which had not seen much of me during the conference in Philly. I leaned against the window, watching the nothingness going by and jotting random ideas down. This went on for awhile before I became conscious of a noise that had been going on for quite some time. It was the sound of paper rustling, but in a very rhythmic pattern. Then it would stop. Then start again. Once I became conscious of it, it began to irritate. It was like having a case of the hiccups-- relentless onslaught followed by a period of silence and the hope that it it's past, only to have that hope dashed by another jolt of hiccup.
I finally looked around to see where the noise was coming from and saw behind me a woman sitting in the last corner of the plane, nothing behind her but the tiny closet optimistically labeled "Restroom" (a pregnant woman went into that space during the flight, and her husband had to get her out. He found it a difficult task, mostly because he couldn't stop laughing). The woman had one of the tiny white bags left in the pocket of the seatbacks with the safety card no one bothers to pull out anymore, and the flight magazine with odd yet strangely necessary products like electric toiletbowl brushes and telescoping eyeglass cases in five fresh colors. The woman was using the bag to breathe into. She was in full hyperventilation mode, and I was doubtful the bag was providing her with any real support.
I turned back to the window and thought, (very smugly, I might add) poor woman. There's really no reason to be so stressed. We're perfectly safe...This grasshopper has made the jump countless times before...Those pilots are experienced...And the flight attendant, well, she's quite calm... She would know if anything was amiss...Besides, why worry about dying? If it happens, there won't be much any of us can do about it...There might be a moment when we look up and think, wow-- that's a big mountain, but it will be too quick to realize...Well, look at that wing-- why is it shaking like that? What is that...I only see it when the strobe light comes on...Wait...Oh, it's rain...No... No, it's sleet...Is it snowing? Can the pilots see? Ok!... Stop that... Really, nothing to get upset about...
Too late. I dug the little white bag out of my seatback pocket, just in case.